“Last year we moved closer from the group of countries with non free press to those of partially free, but this year there was another relapse,” said Ashot Melikyan, the chairman of the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression at the discussion organized by the Media Center in advance of the Freedom of Press Day.
The discussion brought together representatives of international and local organizations as well as foreign representatives in Armenia with an aim to summarize the issues of the media sector in the last year, to speak about the progress and transformations that followed technological developments.
Ara Ghazaryan, lawyer, cofounder of the Rule of Law NGO and a panelist during the discussion assessed the Freedom House report as exaggerated.
“It is not that Freedom House noted relapse, it simply did not note any progress relative to the previous years,” said Shushan Doydoyan, chairwoman of the Freedom of Information Center. Doydoyan also noted that the assessments with regard to previous years have not changed significantly.
Media expert Samvel Martirosyan believes that what really matters is the internal assessment of freedom of press and not the opinions of certain foreign experts. According to Martirosyan the absence of progress in 2013 was unexpected, especially in the context of presidential elections.
Gegham Vardanyan, producer of Media.am website expressed concerns about possible negative psychological shift toward media in view of Armenia’s integration into the Customs Union.
Vardanyan also noted that currently the online media, including online TVs, is gaining momentum. He added that the editorial offices work more efficiently during emergencies as evidenced by previous presidential elections.
However, the speakers agreed that there is much to achieve with regard to online media.
“The passage of the amendments on the Law on Copy Right did not have a preventive impact and violations happen at a larger scale,” noted lawyer Ara Ghazaryan and added that the Law cannot regulate everything and some level of self-regulation by media is an unavoidable necessity.
The speakers also pointed out to external negative impacts on media. Media expert Samvel Martirosyan believes that while the justice system remains non-free, journalists can write and say anything they want. Shushan Doydoyan touched the issue of commercial advertising in media- “Oftentimes the political agenda maker and the advertiser are the one and same, and their invasion of media becomes unavoidable”.
Officials are more experienced now and instead of avoiding journalist questions they give ambiguous answers. Doydoyan believes that this is challenging from the perspective of the Law since the Law entitles the officials to ensure publicity, but its definition is complex and it requires the journalists to be more consistent.
The discussion also included a reflection on the websites that form public opinion and credibility. Samvel Martirosyan said that there exist only two such websites currently and they do not reflect the overall media environment.
Ashot Melikyan, the chairman of the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression concluded by claiming that there are almost no independent media outlets in Armenia and that generally what we have are media outlets rather than professional journalists.
On April 2 the Media Center hosted a discussion that summarized issues of media sector, progress and transformations following technological developments. Speakers included Ara Ghazaryan, lawyer, cofounder of the Rule of Law NGO, Ashot Melikyan, Ashot Melikyan, the chairman of the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression, Samvel Martirosyan, media expert, Shushan Doydoyan, chairwoman of the Freedom of Information Center, Gegham Vardanyan, producer of Media.am website.
In the past 20 years May 3 is celebrated as the International Day of Freedom of Press. The UN General Assembly instituted this day to emphasize the role of free and independent media in any democratic society.